Many travel agencies are working to better integrate mobile messaging into the travel booking process for clients. But a new service from online travel veterans is looking to take a technology-first approach to providing concierge-like service in the online travel booking space.
Lola launches today on the Apple App Store, combining augmented chat with artificial intelligence and a staff of travel agents and customer service specialists to book travel for users. An Android-compatible version will follow before the end of the year.
Kayak co-founder Paul English’s newest project pairs deep-learning artificial intelligence technology with travel agents and customer service experts in order to present users with a more organic travel booking experience than has previously been available to both leisure and business travelers.
“We’re trying to create superhuman travel consultants who are AI-powered and can handle more trips per hour than a regular travel agent can,” English told Skift. “They can make dramatically better recommendations than normal travel agents.”
All communication between traveler and travel agent occurs in mobile chat, with voice input capabilities. Lola has developed an artificial intelligence system that parses both traveler information and analyses natural language to provide intelligent travel choices that Lola’s travel agents can leverage.
None of Lola’s features are available by desktop computer.
“You want everything communicated by the phone, because it’s more convenient, and you want everything stored in the phone, because its asynchronous,” said English. “Messaging lets you do multiple things at the same time, which is particularly important to millennials, and its even important to older folks.”
For now, the staff handling transactions is composed of five “real” travel agents who have worked at major agencies and 10 customer service experts plucked from retail and other service-focused industries. This staff of 15 works alongside Lola’s staff of engineers and developers, providing feedback for changes to the service.
Lola has raised about $20 million in its Series A round after receiving an extra $8 million from existing investors General Catalyst and Accel Partners last month. The other $12 million was transitioned from English’s previous startup Blade Travel.
The Lola service will be invitation-only for the rest of 2016, meaning only current users can invite new users to access the app. English envisions a yearly or monthly membership fee for users to access the service.
Lola’s front-end technology lets agents see exactly what is on their client’s phone in the app on one side of their screen, alongside Lola’s bespoke booking front-end on the other that provides curated travel options.
Amadeus is currently Lola’s primary global distribution system partner.
English has shifted his original plan for Lola, which called for 100 travel advisors working out of the company’s Boston headquarters. The company’s second phase now calls for up to 100 consultants in a call center somewhere in Europe, possibly Berlin, to open by the end of the year.
English’s vision for the company’s third phase involves selling Lola’s front-end technology to other travel agencies, travel management companies, and global distribution systems.
Lola is also in talks to join a luxury travel agent consortium in order to receive benefits like better purchasing power and the ability to receive additional compensation based on its sales.
While a member of Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) and the International Air Transportation Association (IATA), Lola is not currently a member of the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA).